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EU Adopts Act to Safeguard Media

FILE - European Parliament members meet in a plenary session on Sept. 14, 2022, in Strasbourg, France.
FILE - European Parliament members meet in a plenary session on Sept. 14, 2022, in Strasbourg, France.

The European Parliament has adopted a media freedom act designed to protect journalists and their work from political and economic interference.

The idea for the European Media Freedom Act was introduced in 2022 after the EU raised concerns about media pluralism in countries such as Hungary and Poland.

The act is focused on independence, stable funding of public service media, and transparency of media ownership. It also includes protections for journalists from harassment by authorities, regulation of spyware used to target journalists, and measures to protect journalistic sources.

Media rights organizations including the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Press Institute largely welcomed the act but also said the text’s language and standards could be stronger.

One core issue in the act is media capture. This can happen through government efforts to control or pressure public service media outlets, the retaliatory use of state advertising allocations, or media outlet takeovers by government allies in the business world.

In Hungary, for example, a media conglomerate consolidated nearly 500 outlets into a foundation and put them under the control of a foundation run by supporters of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Oliver Money-Kyrle, of the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI), viewed the act’s focus on media capture as an important step in responding to what he said was a “growing crisis.”

One way the act will do this is by having governments distribute any media advertising revenue in an objective and nondiscriminatory manner and providing transparent annual reports about how funds are distributed.

But the clause has exemptions for “subnational” governments, said Money-Kyrle, who leads IPI’s Europe Advocacy and Programs department.

Local authorities that oversee territories with populations of fewer than 100,000 are exempt. Not extending the requirements to these places is a “missed opportunity,” Money-Kyrle told VOA.

The act will also establish the European Board for Media Services, which will be made up of international media regulators. The board will examine cases of governments threatening editorial independence and media pluralism.

The board will have power to intervene and demand justification and explanation from national governments or from member state media regulators, said Money-Kyrle.

Responsibility for enforcement of the act will fall to member states to ensure that their laws fit regulations, said Tom Gibson, of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Gibson, who is the CPJ EU representative and advocacy manager for CPJ, said the act would “put pressure” on member states to act.

"It's an enormous step,” he said of the act’s adoption. “The next enormous step is the implementation of it.”

Money-Kyrle said the IPI would be looking at how EU countries adopt it.

“One of the things that we [IPI] will be urging is that member states, as they change their national laws to fit in with this EU regulation, don’t just have laws that meet the minimum standards provided by the EMFA, but they go further,” said Money-Kyrle.

Following the adoption, IPI released a statement signed by several human rights organizations, including the Civil Liberties Union for Europe and Reporters Without Borders.

While the statement congratulated the EU institutions and welcomed the act, it also emphasized that the regulations could go “much further” in establishing safeguards.

“We now call on the European Commission, national governments and independent regulatory authorities to work closely with media stakeholders for the EMFA’s full and effective implementation to help strengthen media freedom and pluralism across the European Union,” the statement said.